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tv   Your Business  MSNBC  January 29, 2011 5:30am-6:00am EST

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everyone loves a good joke. so how can learning the art of comedy hell ap small business deal with customers? plus, where's the money? how one restaurant got its customers to invest. that plus how your business can show up at the top of someone's internet search. that's all coming up next on "your business."
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small businesses are revitalizing the economy. american express open is here to help. that's why we're proud to presented "your business" on msnbc. hi there everyone. i'm j.j. ramberg. welcome to "your business" where we give tips and advice to help your business grow. it may seem crazy, but it turns out laughter is good for business. for new york's peppercom, it's boosting employee morale and winning new customers.
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hi, i'm lee la bellow. >> i've steve cody. >> i'm clayton fletcher. >> can you tell which one of these people is actually a comedian. >> i'm an at supervise other. >> managing founder and i do next to nothing. >> i'm in charge of taking at the trash. that's not true. i'm their comedy coach. they bring me in and i teach them how to be funny. >> here the employees are actually paid to laugh. no joke. this is a typical comedy workshop at the firm, run by professional comedian clayton fletcher. >> who would like to go next. >> and attended by the staff. >> one thing i strongly discourage is a joke. wait, aren't you a comedy trainer? yes, i am. but i don't want to hear jokes. i want the truth. >> seems a bit like a boondoggle, getting to sit around and laugh with your colleagues while on the clock.
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but it's not. the mastermind behind these sessions is pepper com's managing partner steve cody who says a little laughter goes a long way when it comes to business. he came up with the idea after trying standup comedy himself. >> have i got a kidney for you. >> you're naked up there, don't have a powerpoint presentation to support you. then i suddenly woke up and said, hey, wait a second, this is really helping me in business, too. i noticed that even though i thought i was a fairly good public speaker and presenter, i was becoming subtly better at reading audiences, at filling those pregnant pauses that occur in any sort of business meeting. i thought to myself, i shouldn't keep this just to me. i should share it with the rest of the agency. >> so steve hired clayton to come up with strategies to help peppercom employees become better comedians, which would turn them into better communicators wii would make them better at their jobs.
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>> i think a sense of humor is a fingerprint. everyone has their own unique version of it. so that's the first thing we do, is some exercises to try to get them thinking about what makes them laugh, what makes them funny. >> clayton says in order for comedy to become a useful part of your everyday job, the joke has to start with something real. >> my 83-year-old polish grandmother is sitting in the front with a back bush ka. >> and quickly move to the punch line. >> one of the most important elements of a good punch line is a surprise. so we try find ways to misdirect or confuse the audience so that the funny part catches them off guard because you want your clients and your prospective clients to never know what you're going to throw at them next. >> another comedy technique clayton focuses on that helps companies and comedians alike is knowing your audience. >> it's about eye contact. it's about reading other
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people's body language. it's about focusing on the client and how the client is responding to what i'm saying and then making adjustments based on whether the visual feedback i'm receiving is positive or negative. >> you guys look miserable. >> that's exactly what i do every knight in the club. if there's a guy many front row that is yawning, i'll loosen him up. >> while the goal of the workshops is to help turn out better pr professionals, the most daring students from the workshop try out their material during clayton's show at the new york comedy club, a challenge that is not for the faint of heart. >> i was like, can you believe lisa never said no in her 20s, no wonder she was such a shut. >> cultivating the culture has led to award winning blogs, creative christmas cards and amusing company videos. >> i'm all about putting price
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on the line. >> it may seem like all fun and games, humor in the workplace has boosted business by winning them their biggest client today, whirlpool. >> peppercom stood out for a number of things, they had a lot of fun repertoire and things online, and they also at the same time would enter spers professional high level strategic counseling in the midst of all the fun. it made them something special. >> winning whirlpool was because of comedy. audrey actually searched out firms and found us on the web and knew about us a little bit, but saw our comedy workshops that we do, and she got really excited about that. >> comedy has given pepp pepper helping the company's bottom line. >> winning the whirlpool business, was colossal.
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you coiled say -- i don't want it to come across the wrong way, but you coupled say we're laughing all the way to the bank. so is humor a sound business tool? let's turn to this week's hilarious board of directors. norm brodsky is an inc. magazine columnist and aurry is the ceo of 12 gurus, author of the book "effective gratitude for organizations and individuals," and you are a comedian which is why it makes you so perfect for this discussion. thanks for joining us, guys. >> thanks for having us. >> when i was watching that, i was petrified for those people. nothing sounds scarier than standing up in front of a group of people and trying to be funny. >> the audience is usually drunk. you're fine. >> at a comedy place. >> i would recommend to institute the two-drink minimum
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and work will go much smoother. >> it isn't only ability comedy. what they've done is created a culture. that's one of the most important things. their culture happens to be comedy. it doesn't have to be for you. it was terrific what they did. people like a particular culture. funny is good. so they attract those people who want to work for them who like humor. >> i think, norm, even if you don't care about being funny in the workplace, there's got to be something to being able to get up there and shed all of your fears and that's got to help you just in interactions, whether it be work interactions or personal interactions. it's got to be about work. >> life is about being there, taking the chance, take tk risk, especially if you're going to start any business or venture or make a connection. you've got to go through and break a barrier. that barrier is not just thing the other person has, but your own barriers. comedy is about going threw those risks. >> what they're doing is making people feel comfortable.
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in other words, when somebody gets up and makes a fool of themselves and people are laughing at you, what's better than that. >> exactly. that's what i think is so great about it and scary about it. do you find your comedy helps you in your business? >> i think it does. it breaks down those barriers. success comes from being open and human. you look at a company like z zappos and people connect with it because they feel there's a conversation they can have and a human on on the other side of the line. and the businesses that are growing now are very personal. comedy when it's done right the very personal. >> it's not only comedy. the best comedy are true stories. as they said before, they have to start off with something that's actual. the funniest things are things that happen while you're at work and if you can tell those stories it's fantastic. >> i guess what they're building is funny people, but confidence really. >> confidence. two things. they're building a culture within the company.
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and when you want attract customers, people love to have a great culture. that's the first thing. second of all, they're building employee loyalty is really important. the employees love to go to work, and that's one of the most important things. >> we have to wrap up. one quick thing. can funny be learned? can you learn to be funny? >> i've seen people start out that were terrible, and they're still pretty horrible, but they're much better. there's always hope. >> thanks so much you guys. with money still hard to come by, small business owners have had to get creative to survive. in this installment of "where's the money," we revisit an investment owner who was strapped for cash and came up with a clever idea to fund his business after the banks turned him down. >> in the sleepy town of hastings on hudson at a small
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eatery called comfort, something incredible is happening. strapped by the cash crisis in the middle of a wren know investigation, john halco, the chef and owner of comfort, did something completely unexpected, he asked his customers for money. >> i thought it was a really creative idea. every time you walked in, you could see the card and i was reading about it, and it was very creative, kind of a hastings kind of way of approaching things. >> like so many other cash strapped small businesses he first turned to the banks for help, but no one would loan him the money. >> there's not enough money in circulation to to support our business activity, so restaurants and book stores and small businesses that need cash to stay alive basically have to make their own. >> halco let his customers know his company was struggling and gave them the opportunity to invest in their business. >> if you purchase a vip card for $500, i'll activate the card or cards with $600 on it.
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so right off the top you get 20% on your investment to be used in my restaurant. >> kind of a stroke of genius because we were able to purchase a card knowing that it was a solid investment. >> his resourcefulness translated into raising almost $40,000, saving his business and bridging the gap to finish his renovation, expanding the size of the restaurant. with the bank cut out of the equation, there are no strings attached. >> first of all, i don't have to make any monthly payments, and i don't have to worry about interest. as far as the recouping of the money, it doesn't cost me that much to recoup it. basically it's the cost of food, labor. >> halco also uses the vip cards or what he sometimes calls comfort dollars as currency for doing business with other businesses, exchanging food for services.
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>> i've been barredering with people in the community. i have people working in my website. they do work, i give them money on my vip cards. my lawyer, any time she does work, i give her money on the vip card. >> a lesson that might apply to other businesses in these troubling economic times. >> i think it stems around the community. people have to believe in you to do something like this. you have to set roots down and make people believe in you. that's what i've done. it feels good. you know you want to be your own boss but you're a little hesitant to do it all by yourself. so you may want to try franchising. here are "entrepreneur" magazine's top five tran choices for 2011. number five on the list is supercuts. the company's growth has slowed a bit in recent years, but on track to hope in 100 locations in 2011 and 200 locations in
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2012. number four, 7-eleven. the convenience store king offers a number of different programs for franchisees. number three, mcdonald's, the fast food leader has focused on improving quality and customer experience. second, am/pm. after being acquired any bp in 2006, the chain has expanded rapidly beyond its roots in the west. number one on the list, hampton hotels. the company has positioned itself as a value leader at a time when travelers are looking to spend a little less. still to come, search engine optimization. how to did your business to the top of an internet search. today's elevator pitchers have something they hope will give them a piece of the market.
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seven years ago, i had this idea. to make baby food the way moms would. happybaby strives to make the best organic baby food. in a business like ours, personal connections are so important. we use our american express open gold card to further those connections. last year we took dozens of trips using membership rewards points to meet with the farmers that grow our sweet potatoes and merchants that sell our product. we've gone from being in 5 stores to 7,500. booming is using points to make connections that grow your business. for every business that wants to get more leads and drive more traffic to its website, which is basically most businesses, it is incredibly important to make search engine opinionization a part of the growth strategy because in order
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for your business to have any sort of impact online, joy to rank high in the search engines. here with steps you can take to improve your website search rankings is mike mother, the founder and ceo of w promote. great to see you, mike. >> great to see you. >> this is the holy grail of internet marketing, when you do a search on the search engine, how do you come up first. >> it is, and it is hard to do. >> one of the first things you say is make sure google can find you. >> first and foremost, you have to have great content, unique, relevant authoritative content that say whose you are and what you do and what you sell. we say add a page of content a day to your site if you can do it. >> it's not just enough to have a good site out there. you have to be adding stuff. even if it's not in your business plan to add stuff, it has to be in your seo plan sglp the easiest way to do it is have a blog and put forth good
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information there. >> when you say factor in social media, how does that help? >> this is actually, as of a couple months ago, google announced they'll start using social media indicators, twitter feeds and facebook updates and start incorporate rating those because that's how people are communicating. >> does that mean how many tweets you out out or how many are written about you. >> you want to be positive and engaged in that. it's important to be aware of what's being said and also be part of the conversation. it's a two-way vehicle. >> the more that's being talked about, more stuff that's being generated on social media about you will help in your search rankings? >> yeah. you'll start seeing, depending if things are news worthy, you'll see tweets show up in the google search results. it's going to be a slow process, but something people need to be aware of. >> links from other sites. this i've heard about. >> this was google's secret sauce back in the day. everyone dulz it now. in order to maintain the integrity and make it hard to
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spam the search engine, they said, okay, let's have a popularity index and count up the amount of people that link into your site and it's very hard to track. that's google's magic. >> to get someone very popular to link to your site will be helpful. if you get a really popular blogger to write about you and link to your site, that's huge. >> absolutely. you want the linking text to be something you'd like to rank for. you don't know how many people will say for running shoes, click here -- >> finally include video. >> google loves video. basically if you have video content, people love it. you tag it correctly, get it on your site and google will reward that in the search engine rankings. >> these seem doable, pretty easy to do. i hope people out there can try it and start to see them -- >> you start with the baby steps. >> mike, thanks so much. >> thank you.
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necessity is the mother of invention, and if you have a lot of kids or a lot of customers, you know slicing up a pizza into equal slices can be tricky. today's el valter pitcher says his product is on the cutting edge of the program. >> i'm andrew, patent attorney. >> i'm greg of ceo. >> our product, the portion paddle is a cutting tool that cuts equal pizza slices. i dropped it for a problem that my pizza business and the $20 billion pizza industry runs into every day. loss of profits from poorly cut, unequal pizza slices. with the portion paddle, every slice is a profit setter. >> easily customizable. easy use and easy to maintain. that's why it's so much better
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than the competition out there. in less than a year we've sold $45,000 worth. we have a large pizza franchise. we have other businesses involved. we're asking for $40,000 for markeding, branding and intellectual property worldwide. >> all right, guys. thank you so much for your pitch and for bringing it on there. i kind of like this thing. i think i could get into that. let me hear what the panel things. norm, let's start with you? >> i'm a little prejudiced. i always go into the pizza place and try to get the biggest piece. i'm not sure -- >> the new york portion. >> exactly. >> i'm not too sure this is for me. i would be interested in hearing what your gross margins is, what your market is. i think your market may be late too small from me. i never discourage nibble from going into their business, and good look. >> ari, how about the pitch? did they miss anything? >> i like the enthusiasm.
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it sounds more of like an armageddon. i've never seen anybody fight about the slice being too big or too small. i feel like the person cutting the pizza, that's all they do all day is cut the pizza. if they're cutting it at eight slices, doing that ten hours a day, i'm not sure they need a guide to do it. >> your idea would be then to explain the problem a little better. >> i would say you've got to explain the problem. i like the idea, it looks like a cool fraternity prank, i'm not quite sure that people actually have a problem with the size of their slice. >> since i'm guessing that neither of you would take a meeting, let's make this productive. if they should add one thing in their pitch, what would it be? >> it would be telling the possibility of the marketplace and the gross margins for sure. >> ari? >> i think you have to show a way that you're going to save a drastic amount of money for restaurant tours who don't like to change things and maybe extra cheese. >> thanks so much, good luck with everything. congratulations on the sales
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you've done all right. and if any of you out there have a product or service and you want feedback from our elevator pitch panel, just sent us an e-mail. the address is include what your company does, how much you're trying to raise and what you intend to do with the money. you never know, someone watching the show might be interested in helping you. time to answer some of your questions. norm and ari are with us once again. the first question is from the managing partner of a public relations firm. >> in the past year alone we've had over 33% growth. we started in new york in 2009 with only me, and now we have five full-time employees and several interns and we're growing rapidly. so how fast is too fast to grow? >> it's a nice problem to have, right? >> what's the other problem? the car is too nice, the boyfriend is too good looking?
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what else is she going to write in about. >> that's a great question. there's two things you have to ask yourself. first, why? why am i growing this fast? is there a reason. the second is, making sure you don't outgrow your cash. good businesses can go out of business if they run out of cash. >> when she says how do i know if i'm grow toog fast, you look at cash. >> the other issue is the people. you can grow fast but you may not necessarily be able to hire the right people that quickly. there you end up with a large team of people that are not a players and all of the sudden you have a totally different company you don't want to be a part of. >> what do you suggest she do? take some time off and spend a day evaluating people, cash, anything else? >> i think she has to look down the road. where do i want to be in three years and do i have enough resources to get there, both in cash and in people. >> that's a good question, too. do you want to grow? you get on the band wwagobandwa
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>> does she want to do something she loves or have a multimillion dollar company? she may find she expands just outside of her comfort zone. >> let's move on to the next one. this is a ceo of a real estate firm with a special focus on social entrepreneurship. >> once you achieve success, say, in a local market, how do you take that business and franchise it? what are the first steps that you have to take in order to make a successful business franchisable? >> franchises are cookie cutters. so you have to set up the cookie cutter. i'm not sure one is enough. you have to open up two or three different places. you have to have manuals and procedures that can be followed and duplicated over and over again. the most successful franchises, the biggest one like subway. you walk into a subway store anywhere, the food tastes exactly the same. when you're franchising or thinking of franchising, you have to have a service or product that the transferable the exact same way.
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i'm not sure this early in this guy's career, whether he's ready to do that or not. >> i go again to the people issue. i run a volunteer organization in 13 cities. some cities thrive and some struggle. you have to find someone who is willing to lead, to run a business, but also someone who is willing to follow the step-by-step manual that norm is talking about. that's a difficult mix to follow. someone who wants to take charge, someone who wants to go by the book, those are tough people to find. that may be your first step, is finding those people. this is a question about hiring your first employee. >> when do you know to hire that first employee and what role should they play, what is that key hire, the first key hire? >> it's got to be an air where you feel i have to find someone who can do this better than i can. building your corporate culture, you want to find someone who is going to lead you into a better path. this is not a time to find
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someone to fill in the work and lessen your load, but to find someone you can turn around and say you do this better than i do, i'll let you lead. >>i disagree. >> shock. >> you'll never find anybody as good as you. most people who look for people who are as good as them or better than them. you find somebody different. our attitude is you hire for attitude and that's the first thing. you can teach people what to do. the second thing is that make sure you hire somebody who has the ability to learn and the ability to want to learn. so that's when. and the question was when do you do it. the answer is that as you're building your business, you're going to know can you take yourself out of the position and do other things within the company. >> norm, thank you very much for your advise. if any of you have a question, go to our website, the address is
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submit a question for the panel. if you'd rather, you can e-mail us your questions or comments. the address is now that we've heard from our experts, here are a few of your great ideas that will help other entrepreneurs. >> the first thing you need to do is keep a good team around you. that's something that i've learned. i've learned to not micromanage. i've learned to be fleblgsable, to be open minded and honest with myself and try to hire somebody who is going to compliment your strengths and weaknesses. it's so simple but it can really make or break you. >> i think it's really important to invest in good legal advisory services up front as a small business because this can save you a lot of headaches and money down the line. >> in this day and age of social media and e-mail and all these other forms of communication that are really great and prove
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really powerful, there's something amazingly simple and powerful about a phone call. people overlook it as a powerful tool to get business done. with the nonstop barrage of twitter feeds, friend requests and status update, who actually has time to get any work done? our website of the week can help. freedom which is available at can reduce the distraction that is come with having an internet connection. it can block internet access for up to ten hours. you can buy a full version of free-throw dom for $10 or a free trial version is also available. to learn more about today's show, click on our website. it's you'll find web exclusive content and information to help your business grow. don't forget to become a fan on
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facebook. we look forward to your feedback. you can follow us on twitter. it's @msnbcyourbiz. next meet a entrepreneur who learned the hard way about sharing too much information about her business. >> my name is cassie and you're not going to believe this, but i was about to open the same exact store in the same location. it almost had the same name, too. wow, you just must be shocked, but it's not a coincidence. >> find out how this business owner turned her devastation into inspiration and overcame the shock of your life. till then, i'm j.j. ramberg. remember, we make your business our business. seven years ago, i had this idea. to make baby food the way moms would. happybaby strives to make the best organic baby food.


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